Why the Terror Teat keeps ’em Sweet…

“So, in the interests of survival, they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

This week children attending the two large Islamic schools in Perth, schools I visited regularly as a bookseller, were advised not to wear their uniforms on public transport.  The reason? – They were being emotionally and physically intimidated by members of the public.  Got to remember these kids probably also carry backpacks – that’s some scary shit right there.  They say they’re just carrying homework and a cut lunch but we don’t want to take any chances.    
During the same week, a man entered an Islamic school in Sydney swinging a machete and asking if this was indeed an Islamic school.  Kids hid under their desks, got all upset – bit alarmist really.  I mean, this bloke was clearly terrified.  He has a right to protect himself from little Johnny.
And then there’s the young New Zealander who was bailed up at traffic lights on the Gold Coast by a car full of patriots who threatened to behead him.  In their defense, the young man had a beard.  I’m sure Mr. Abbott is currently looking into some facial hair legislation to ensure we are at least threatening the right people.  Because we just can’t have bearded people with darker skin driving willy-nilly around the neighbourhood.  We have a right to feel safe.
Mr. Abbott’s War on Terror.  This is some of the best goddamn marketing I have ever seen.  The whole idea of marketing a weak product (and you are far more likely to die of Ebola right now than succumb to a terrorist wielding a cutlass) is to artificially inflate the need this product will satisfy.  Like the War on Mould in my shower: clearly the mould will kill me so I must buy ridiculously expensive industrial strength toxic products that burn my eyes and irritate my skin unless I’m wearing a full body condom while applying them.  Marketing convinces me that filling my house with poison will keep me safe.
These poisons are a great distraction too.  There’s lots of tiny, tiny print on the bottles, and websites you can visit that describe what Mould does to your respiratory tract.  I don’t want any of that microscopic shit controlling my life, except all of a sudden it is.  And I lose track of the fact that if I rescue one more cat I’m more likely to trip over one on the way to the toilet in the middle of the night, crack my head open, and bleed to death before morning.  And the Mould will end up living longer than I do.
It’s the same principle as showing something shiny to a screaming baby.
So climate change, the cost of education, the insidious threat to our personal freedoms, pensioner poverty, homelessness, welfare hysteria, our violation of human rights, the depersonalization of people who look and sound different to us, and every other nasty little right wing agenda-laden product peddled to us during the last 12 months will slip into the back of our consciousness because all of a sudden there’s something much bigger to worry about.  But Uncle Tony will protect us. 
Fear.  No matter how contradictory or boilerplate the origin, fear remains the one great controller and captivator of both individuals and entire populations.  And we’re all suckling now…

#6Degrees of Separation: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I have been invited to participate in the 6 Degrees of Separation Meme, an original blog tour created by Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith.  The rules are posted at the end of this Blog.  Before I get started I just have to say…Kevin Bacon.
We start this month with The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  Here is a picture of the lovely cover, which is as far as I have ventured:
Emma has specified that one does not have to have read the first book in the chain in order to participate and can I just say – thank fuck.  With a ‘must read’ pile that has left the town of Daunting and is now approaching the borders of Unachievable, I reserve the right to bypass a tome the size of a house brick which someone dear to me recently described as ‘like chewing cardboard’.  I have no doubt that Eleanor Catton is brilliant, and well-deserving of the Booker.  But I’m middle aged and no longer read things simply because I’ve been told I ‘should’.
Having said that, I bloody love the idea of The Luminaries.  The synopsis, the description of the intricacies of character and plot, the style – it should read like a chic, Victorian-esque cat’s-cradle of intrigue and people you forget aren’t real.  And I do love a wordy book.   Which brings me to the first book in my chain…
Ah, Wilkie Collins.  How many nights have we curled up together like cats.  The Woman in White (1859) is a wordy book, a Victorian epic, a chilling and picaresque melodrama, and a bit of a feminist shout-out.  Wilkie had an understanding of the Victorian Sisterhood.  It also deals with layers of reality and identity – and I love that.  He’s better than Charlie.  You heard it here first.  Which leads me to…
John Fowles.  Talk about your layers of reality and I’m talking The Magus (1965).  Big, fat wordy book about a narcissist having tea with a nihilist, psychological warfare dressed as salvation and manipulation just another mask to wear to the party.  Simply put.  The fact that a large part of the story involved Conchis’ story of his experiences during Nazi occupation leads me to…
Isaac Bashevis Singer.  Specifically, Shadows on the Hudson (English translation 1998).  Funny and bitter.  It’s dark, but again there are layers of reality – that search for balance between the parameters of orthodoxy, new prosperity and deep grief.  What I remember most about this book was being transported.  Lifting my head from the page and thinking ‘Where am I?’ Of really forgetting these people were not real.  Which brings me to…
Diary of a Young Girl (1947).  I read an abridged version of Anne Frank’s diary as a child, then read the unabridged later in life.  Singer never used the word ‘Holocaust’, but by the time I came to both of these books I was emotionally raw to the word.  This is also a book that deals with layers of reality – Anne’s loneliness and isolation pressed hard against the struggle for a sense of normality in extreme circumstances, where no one actually uses the words ‘I’m terrified’.  Which leads me to…
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2003) by Lionel Shriver.  And can I just say ‘I’m terrified’Again, loneliness and isolation struggling to be understood. Fiction dressed as non-fiction (i.e. a collection of letters) – again the layering of reality.  We have the story of multiple people told through the reminiscences of one biased narrator/letter writer.  And that slow, torturous lifting of the veil, the realization of what’s really going on, the deliberately measured pace which is still too fast because as you’re reading you’re begging not to be taken where you’re obviously being taken.  Which brings me to the final book in my chain…
The Lucifer Effect (2007) by Philip Zimbardo.  I can’t believe I’ve ended up with non-fiction.  Is that allowed? Zimbardo is best known for his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, and the subtitle of this book Understanding How Good People Turn Evil sort of says it all.  We’re all born with a clean slate.  Sure, genetics may load the gun, but that begs the question – Who or what pulls the trigger?
So there’s my chain.  Please check out the chains of Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith, and everyone else who has taken part.  And have a go! – Here are the rules…

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Emma Chapman has a lot to answer for.   I stayed up well into the night reading How To Be A Good Wife regularly muttering “You won’t believe this!” to an increasingly confused dog.  She then gave me the worst book hangover I’ve had in years – I couldn’t think about anyone but Marta and Hector for weeks.  She screwed with my life and I love her for it.  I await her second novel in much the same way I anticipate my hip replacement: “Oh God I can’t wait!  Oh God the recovery time…”
Emma has invited me to participate in this Writing Process Blog Hop.  You can read Emma’s responses to the questions here.  My answers are as follows:
1.    What am I working on?
Who can say balls?  I’ve got a couple in the air.  First, I am busy editing my second novel due for publication with Allen & Unwin in February 2015.  It has one question at its heart: Does doing something monstrous make you a monster?  I refrain from answering this question myself as I refuse to judge my characters.  People do the best they can at any given time given their histories, hurts, and limitations.  And sometimes they mistake denial for strength.
Secondly, I am busy with the WIP which has a deadline of July 2014 (pause for maniacal laughter…my publisher isn’t reading this, right?)  This one is scheduled for publication with Allen & Unwin February 2016. This is a book which asks the question: What gives a person personhood? What defines us? Is it our ‘selves’ or our history, and what happens if our history is obliterated?
I have also had a sneak preview of the brand new German cover of Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012) from Königskinder Verlag (Carlsen) in Hamburg, due for release later this year.
2.       How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It’s not cautious in its representation of people and their foibles and never underestimates the strength or intelligence of young adults.  Which is a nice way of saying I have been known to make some gatekeepers uncomfortable.    And by uncomfortable I mean some place on the outskirts of anxious travelling towards appalled.  I suppose I never forgot what it was like to be a young adult.
3.      Why do I write what I do?
Because I have to.  Because little people have set up shop in my head and are constantly whispering stories at me (I think there’s a medication for that…).  Because the minute you condescend to young adults, or try to moralize their experience, you lose them.
4.      How does my writing process work?
Badly.  I am constantly distra…Oh look! – Something shiny!…
I don’t plan other than to hurriedly pause to scribble a post-it if something pops into my head mid-sentence which I think might be useful at a later point.  I then lose the post-its.  My desk looks like the inside of a skip bin colonized by cats.  When I sit down to write I set a word limit for myself which I really shouldn’t do because it annoys the shit out of me.  I don’t move on to a new sentence until the sentence I’m working on is completely finished, scrutinized, torn apart and reconstructed.  I must have two things: absolute quiet and time.  If the neighbour starts mowing the lawn during the limited time I have to sit down and write it can make me homicidal.
So that’s me.  And now I’d like to invite some other writers to share their processes:
Robert Schofield is the author of Heist (Allen & Unwin, 2013) and the upcoming sequel Marble Bar (Allen & Unwin, 2014).  He makes me laugh and listens to me whinge.  Sometimes he says philosophical stuff at me.
Vikki Wakefield is the award winning author of All I EverWanted (Text, 2011) and Friday Brown (Text, 2013).  I love her books and I love the way her head works.
Rebecca Raisin is the author of contemporary romance and adventure.  She is enjoying crazy success with digital publications Christmas At The Gingerbread Café (Carina, 2013), Chocolate Dreams At TheGingerbread Café (Carina, 2014), The Heart of Bali (Escape, 2014), and Mexican Kimono, under the pseudonym Billie Jones (Really Blue Books, 2013).
If you’d like to take part in this Blog Hop, get in touch with these wonderful people before they tag elsewhere!

Being Naked

“She’s not wearing makeup so her face just looks like skin.” 
― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke 

Due to an unanticipated complication to recent illness I haven’t been able to wear makeup for over a week.  I’m like most women of a certain age – I don’t wear a lot, but I have a look, a finish, a mask.  And I was surprised and intrigued by my own, and others, reaction to the lack of makeup.
I like makeup.  I can hide things, enhance things, and was very excited when my son first introduced me to primer.  I had to ask what it was.  He told me to think of it as polyfiller.   Done!  So when you are accustomed to having an identifiable physical face that you present to the world the consequences of leaving it behind when you leave the house can be quite extraordinary.
From inside my head I still feel like the same person, obviously.  However my reality check first hit me when I stopped for fuel on the way to work.  The console operator, whom I see several times a week, asked me if I was unwell.   I said no.  Then I remembered what I looked like.  And became immediately self-conscious about presenting my natural face in public.  I began explaining that I had no makeup on, and then why.  Even as I was doing this I became irritated.  Not at her.  But at my need to explain.
I felt naked.  I felt unfinished.  I felt…ugly.  The feelings continued throughout the days as people asked me:  Have you been crying?  Are you sick?  What’s wrong with your face?
Like most girls, I grew up believing I was ugly.  We do, you know.  We are bombarded with air-brushed, digitally enhanced bullshit from the moment we open a magazine.  Our acceptance as women in this society is diabolically tied to our being suitably coiffed, waxed, manicured, pedicured, made-up and thin.  And we buy into this not realizing at the time that we have accepted a bill of goods that does not exist within reality.
It’s like being naked in public.  People are uncomfortable.   Here’s the sadness – I’m uncomfortable too.  Every morning I look at myself in the mirror and plan how I will hide my face.
Truth is, I’m not ugly.  I was just sold a bill of goods.

Cankles And The Single Girl…

“The really frightening thing about middle age is that you know you’ll grow out of it.” – Doris Day
I’ve never had a problem with middle age.  I like it.  There’s the grey hair that has forced me blonde, the increasing girth, the hormonal chin hair that you never seem to notice until it’s flapping in the breeze threatening to take someone’s eye out, the deteriorating eyesight, and those sudden internal temperature fluctuations that I’m told are to be expected but which I firmly believe are symptomatic of burgeoning Spontaneous Human Combustion.
I’ve resigned myself to having my hips replaced, and to having to sleep with a mask on because I disturb the neighbours…on Rottnest.   I’m OK with going out for a social drink and feeling it’s been a late night…at 7.30.  I’m OK with my favourite perfume suddenly giving me a rash and no longer recognizing the back of my own hands.
None of this matters in comparison to the wonderful sense of settling into your own self, finally gaining the perspective years of dumb choices has given you, and the pleasure of having your response to the world with the odd “fuck you” accepted as eccentric and somewhat charming.   No amount of peculiar physical changes can compete with the lovely peace you find in your own company, the pride in the achievements of, and friendship with, adult children, and the sense that you’ve earned a right to be here.
However, I was not prepared for…cankles.
Not at this age!  And you know why I have cankles?  Because my arthritis medication causes fluid retention! My feet look and feel like foreign bodies.  I occasionally poke them just to watch the dimple created refill with fluid.  I feel like an Oliver Saks patient.  “These feet are not mine…”
So I’m prescribed diuretics.  They give diuretics to someone who already has to wee twice after a cup of tea.  Not to mention the failing pelvic floor muscles.  I’m going to either wet the bed or turn into June Allyson.
Keep your legs elevated as much as possible, the medical professionals tell me.  The last time someone said that to me I was wearing stilettos and a spray of perfume (the same one now giving me a rash).
I’ve never had a problem with middle age…

When Gatekeepers Meet

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen – Tommy Smothers

For those of you who follow my goings on, you will remember a post I wrote about being censored at a literary festival in 2013.  You can read that post here.  Having been a Gatekeeper myself, and wanting above all to promote and encourage communication between authors, their readers, and the people who decide what our readers can and can’t read in the YA industry, I gave the following interview to Danielle Binks about my experience…

…and what I’ve learned is:

Gatekeepers are ordinary, sensitive human beings with people to answer to.  Having been a bookseller with the keys to the kingdom and a dodgy lock before me, I know first hand that reflexive antipathy is bred in the buyer (and seller) who fears and anticipates repercussions.

I cannot write with repercussions in mind.  They don’t even occur to me.  I follow the voices in my head, who are real people to me, and my goal is to treat them, and my readers, with respect.  That’s all I can do.

I have been in communication with the festival organizer who made that decision to have my attendance at the festival dependent upon not presenting Creepy & Maud.  I like her and I respect her.  Mistakes were made , fear and indignation met, but the outcome has been a conversation that I would not otherwise have had.  I am grateful for that conversation.

The link to my interview with Danielle is below: